A jumble of giggles and chocolate chip cookies filled the Morse College master’s house yesterday afternoon as more than 100 Yalies rushed to hear voices from their past.
During an hourlong discussion of his life and career in show business, acclaimed film director and puppeteer Frank Oz briefly performed the voices of his most famous “Sesame Street” and “Muppet Show” characters to an audience of wide smiles and laughter.
“I’m not a voice person at all,” he said. “I’m a character person. I work on character, and the voice just comes.”
Oz, who is also known for having directed films like “Bowfinger,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” told the audience about his career as a Henson puppeteer and later move to motion pictures.
After his family immigrated to the United States when he was 5 years old, Oz said he picked up the family hobby of puppetry and began giving performances in the San Francisco Bay area. During one such performance, the 17-year-old Oz was discovered by Jim Henson and offered a job.
“My first four years I was too frightened to do the voices. I had low self-esteem,” Oz said.
Eventually, his work as Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear and Cookie Monster brought him fame in the late 1970s. Oz’s place in popular culture was secured forever when he provided the voice and puppet work for Yoda in George Lucas’ “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Since that time Oz has gone on to direct and act in some of the most successful feature films of the last two decades and has worked with actors as talented and varied as Marlon Brando and Eddie Murphy.
Having worked with both film and puppetry, Oz said he feels each has its own limitations and rewards.
“Jim Henson called the puppets symbols. If they remain innocent, you can do and say a lot more with them than you can with a human,” he said.
Oz said he tries to evoke the same kind of vitality and spontaneity from his actors that he and his fellow performers achieved on the “Muppet Show.”
“I try to let things breathe and blossom. I know when it cooks; I know when it bubbles. I always pray for good spontaneity, for good playing around,” he said.
Andrew Sessa ’02 said he enjoyed hearing Oz share his experiences and ideas.
“I came for the Muppets, but I was surprised and happy to hear how well-rounded his career has been,” he said.
Other students also found there was much more to Oz than his loveable Muppet characters.
“It was very refreshing to hear all the perspectives he has developed through a wide career as an entertainer,” Marc Holden ’03 said.
When an audience member asked what, out of all things he has done in his life, Oz would most like to be remembered as, he answered without hesitation.
“A good father,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing.”